J.R. Daniel Kirk and Instruction Manuals

by hamiltonmj1983

J. R. Daniel Kirk wrote a blog yesterday discussing the use of the Bible as an instruction manual in sharp contrast to his understanding of narrative theology.

Kirk recounted how, so often in youth ministry (and I would even add college and young adult ministry) that the bible is referred to as an “instruction manual” for life. I cannot help but to recount Burlap to Cashmere’s 1998 hit christian single, Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth (with the acronym B.I.B.L.E.), which I loved as a teenager without realizing the theological issues that arise when the Bible is used in such a manner.

He goes on to explain how, when one attempts to use the Bible as an instruction manual, it becomes very easy to get caught up in the details found in Leviticus or Numbers, and how it is hard to understand what seem to be gaps between the New Testament and these laws of the Old Testament. Kirk urges his readers to embrace a narrative theology, which “attempts to articulate an ethic that does justice to the diachronic (across time) nature of the biblical texts, the developing nature of theology across time, and the storied nature of our faith.”

This following excerpt from Kirk’s post really struck me:

Across Scripture, however, there is a relatively constant movement: the imperative (what we’re supposed to do) flow from the indicatives (what God has already done for us). In narrative theology, recognize that the great saving act of God that defines us as a people is now no longer what it once was. No longer do we swear, “As the Lord lives who brought us up out the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” As Jeremiah anticipated, the people of God now look to a greater deliverance as the defining marker of the identity of God (Jer 16:14; 23:7).

I appreciate the first line in that, especially because it highlights the “historical prologue” section in a suzerain / vassal covenant. I always try to teach my students that the entire reason that the Israelites were to follow the law was not in order to gain anything, but because they had already gained everything through the previous “breaking in” of Yahweh into the world and the salvation from the oppressive hands in Egypt that ensued from that “breaking in.” Kirk, here, highlights how that moment in time is no longer the focus of Christians, but instead we do what we do because of something else that God already did, another “breaking into” time and space: the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I appreciate Kirk’s post about narrative theology, and I realize that I have not focused much time or effort studying this approach to scripture, and that I need to focus more attention on it as a hermeneutic. As for all of you, my readers, what do you think about this?

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